Like many large grant organizations, the Fulbright Foundation requires applicants to write both a statement of purpose and a personal statement.
Regardless of your personal background, a strong personal statement for a large grant application like the Fulbright should always have a clear focus: the content of it should always serve the overarching project proposal that you’ve articulated in your statement of purpose.
[For more about the statement of purpose, check out: Writing the Fulbright Statement of Purpose as a Practical Document.]
4 goals of your grant personal statement
The personal statement is a persuasive text in which your job is to convince the reader that you are excited about and capable of achieving the impactful goals you have set for yourself. The choices that you make as you share your personal history should enable you to accomplish the following goals:
- Explain what drives you to carry out this particular project with an authentic sense of enthusiasm, passion, and commitment towards generating tangible impacts.
- Describe past experiences that have equipped you to carry out this particular project with a clear sense of cultural sensitivity, collaboration, and purpose.
- If your project plays a part in your overarching personal or professional trajectory, show the reader what you have already done to fulfill this mission.
- Show the committee what kinds of impacts you plan to have both as you carry out this project, and afterwards. How will the time that you spend on this grant contribute to a future that goes far beyond the project itself?
Below I’ve included the personal statement that I wrote for a successful application to the Fulbright Brazil cohort of 2016. After the original essay, I have provided analysis that clearly shows the argumentative logic and supporting evidence in each paragraph.
My Fulbright personal statement
I first studied Portuguese to expand my comparative engagement with Spanish Latin American literature as an undergraduate student. This literary curiosity, however, quickly unfolded into an overwhelming year of music, buses, warm tropical air, and full- time coursework as an exchange student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in 2007. Captivating Brazilian authors like Darcy Ribeiro and Machado de Assis pulled me deeper into the Portuguese language. The political power of Música Popular Brasileira and the stark creativity of Cinema Novo forced me to reconsider my own historical perspectives regarding the increasingly visible and global role of regional cultures. After that year of international studies my relationship with Brazil continued to expand in dynamic ways.
My first professional role at Glass Lewis required me to conduct research in Spanish and Portuguese, translating documents for the explicit purpose of assessing the monetary value of publicly traded companies in the Americas. There I realized that my affinity for language acquisition and critical thinking put me in a unique position to facilitate access to economic and cultural dialogues regarding the growing importance of Latin America and Brazil. After this experience I attended the University of Cambridge and wrote my thesis on 20th century visual and photographic representations of the U.S.-Mexico border. This project showed me that there are undeniable links between aesthetic representation, technology, politics and economic flows. By continuing my studies at the doctoral level and seeking opportunities to work with Latin America and Brazil, I make choices that allow me to facilitate public access to information, critical dialogue and multiple points of view in a variety of international contexts.
In the classroom I have collaborated with Professor L. to teach students how to translate ethnographic narratives about musical experiences into research projects regarding relationships between global popular culture, technology and individual identities. I have spoken at several conferences about my collaboration with UCLA archivists to make a previously hidden collection of cordel accessible through a highly searchable and detailed Finding Aid at the Online Archives of California. Last year I consulted with a small educational start-up called Endless Mobile, a company that facilitates access to educational information for communities that only have intermittent access to the Internet. At Endless Mobile I served as a content strategist and developed tools for selecting and storing educational content that is now being used in classrooms all over Guatemala.
The knowledge that I continue to develop and gain as I study Latin America and Brazil is only useful unless* I can share it with others. There are a variety of venues through which information can be made accessible to larger audiences, and they are not always in the classroom. In addition to my studies, experiences at Glass Lewis, the UCLA Library’s Special Collections and internet companies like Endless Mobile have shown me that that the stories we tell about relationships between the Americas, whether they are driven by financial or educational needs, play incredibly powerful roles in the contemporary world. As a student, translator, teacher and researcher I aim to participate in these conversations and search for better ways to make them possible.
* This typo was in my original (and successful) proposal. “Unless” should be ‘if.”
Analysis of the argument – paragraph by paragraph
Persuasive goal: Explain my initial exposure to studying in the host country of Brazil as the root of my current desire to study the “increasingly visible and global role of regional cultures.”
Evidence provided in paragraph: As I discuss my experiences studying abroad in Brazil, I clearly reference the main components of my project. The prominent content of my project: “literatura de cordel,” is an object of regional culture, and the complex mechanism I wish to consider: “global visibility,” results from processes of circulation and redistribution.
Persuasive goal: Clearly show how my postgraduate experiences were a continuation of the interests I developed during my year abroad in Brazil.
Evidence provided in paragraph: Whether in my professional role as a financial researcher, master’s student at Cambridge, or doctoral student at UCLA, I consistently chose to pursue complex questions related to “public access to information” in cross-cultural, multi-lingual, and global contexts. Again, in this paragraph I’ve chosen to narrate my professional history through the broadest theme of the project: redistribution.
Persuasive goal: Demonstrate the active role that I currently play in the process of redistributing educational information through teaching, archival collaboration, and non-research work experiences.
This paragraph ties together a diverse set of work experiences, and purposefully cuts through a number of institutional boundaries. By clearly narrating my recent non-research work experiences as a teacher, collaborative archivist, and content developer for an education start-up, I clearly state my capacity to carry out my mission both within and beyond the university setting.
Hey there’s a typo in this paragraph, and I still made it through!
Persuasive goal: Envision a future for myself that will allow me to have broad social impacts through a continuous practice of making information accessible in a variety of institutional settings.
Evidence provided in paragraph: This paragraph clearly expresses a personal mission that is open to the future, wishes to make information available outside of the classroom, and can see beyond this singular project. I acknowledge the powerful nature of cultural relationships between the Americas and, in the final sentence; I firmly plant myself in the contemporary world, even though my object of study is from the past.
Bottom line: what I learned
Hindsight is 20/20. Even though I didn’t know how the events, activities, and interests of my past experiences would add up while they were happening, the personal statement was a chance for me to confidently show the committee that I was passionate about and prepared to achieve the project-based goals that I set for myself.
Need help navigating the grant application writing process? Looking for personalized guidance for your personal statement? Learn how your Accepted advisor can help you achieve your educational and professional goals.Want Rebecca to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Grad School Statement of Purpose, a free guide
• What I Learned about Grant Writing from Putting Together 3 Fulbright Applications Before Finally Being Selected
• The Personal Statement That Got Me a Large Scholarship to Cambridge